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What is role of the Friend of the Court office in child custody?

When child custody is disputed in Michigan, parents dealing with custody issues will have some contact with the Friend of the Court Office. In fact, this is the first office any parents will have to deal with when a judge is deciding the child custody arrangement. However, it very important for parents to understand that Friend of the Court office does not determine or decide the custody arrangement, but gives the court recommendations.

One of the roles of the Friend of Court is to a conduct and complete a custody evaluation. The office looks into all pertinent facts surrounding the case before making a recommendation. For instance, the office will look at the current custody arrangement, parenting time and even look to see if some alternate dispute resolution method, such as mediation, was court-ordered or not, and if it was attempted, was successful or not or altogether refused by the parties.

The office has specific policies in place on scheduling the custody evaluation interviews. Depending on the case at hand, a Friend of the Court evaluator will meet with the parents either together or individually. For instance, if there is a history domestic violence between the parents, meeting the parent separately is appropriate. Conducting interviews with the parents is crucial for the custody evaluator to gather information and make appropriate recommendations to the court.

Child custody issues and disputes can be emotional, and questions posed by a custody evaluator can cause some anxiety. But, it may help for parent to know that the custody evaluator is trying to determine the kind of relationship the parent has with child. Thus, it should not be surprising to note that the custody evaluator's line of questions will comport to the factors under the Child Custody Act. The recommendations that the Friend of the Court custody evaluator makes are intended to help the judge presiding over the case to determine what custody arrangement is in the best interest of the child.

Source: State Court Administrative Office, "Michigan Custody Guideline," pages 6-9, accessed June 15, 2015

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